SALT LAKE CITY — Candy and pumpkin jokes are flying! A costume contest and a chaste romantic subplot! Spooky story telling, on-demand thunder and lightening, and a wacky villain aiming to destroy Halloween forevermore! Such are the not at all gory guts of Scaffold Theatre’s Edgar Allan Poe-themed Halloween romp, Nevermore.
Three very committed and, frankly, overly talented actors are giving everything they have to bringing to life what could loosely be called a plot driven by multiple zany roles. Poe’s Annabelle Lee, Jack O’lantern, and Babba Yaga appear in turn to tell their twisted tales. Under the direction of Christy Summerhays, Scaffold Theatre’s founder Julie-Anne Liechty serves as the evening’s MC: Alvarissa (a relation to the more famous, but previously engaged, Elvira). Liechty, in a hot pink wig, vamps around the audience providing the pun-littered details of her dating life with various monstrous creatures. Barrett Ogden, in a fun departure of the many serious and experimental roles I have seen him in over the years, makes great use of the three-level set as he tells haunting stories with a powerful voice and makes some shy attempts to confess his love to his pretty friend, Annabelle, played by Meg Flinders. Flinders portrays Poe’s forlorn, and dead, young heroine perfectly with a sickly sweet voice that drops menacingly and a neck that twists ominously when she embarks on telling her dark stories from the beyond. They are all clearly masters of their craft.
There is no writer credited, so I can assume the plot, such as it is, and comic bits that surround the excellent monologue story telling, are likely the product of group collaboration. These bits were the least interesting for me. I would have preferred a night of creepy stories, but the comedy could be highly effective for the right crowd. The actors were perfectly memorized and seemed ready to roll with the few moments of response the audience provided. It is to be expected on an opening night for a show that seeks audience engagements that there be some rough edges to hammer out, but the actors were enthusiastic and energetic about their work for much longer than I could manage to be.
On the production side, it is clear that Clarisa Johnston and Jacqueline Cabrera have put careful effort into the details the set and props. Candace Bahe’s costumes are the equally thoughtful, while everything on stage seems to be heavily supplemented by a buying spree at a Spirit Halloween store. The black box space feels appropriately ominous and creepified with sound, lights, projection and effects by David Braithwaite. Before and after the performance audience members eagerly enjoyed the chance for a photo op on the beautifully decked out stage.
The current marketing bills the show as crossover between a haunted house and a theatrical performance, but other than those invited onto the stage for the costume contest, the audience stays firmly seated throughout, and no emotion beyond laughter is elicited. I assume that it is for a couple of PG references that the show billing mentions “not recommended for children under 10,” but in my professional opinion, holding a master’s degree in Theatre for Youth, and the aunt of no less than 15 younglings, I cannot imagine a better audience for this show than the 8-12-year-old crowd. They would surely be more appreciative than the group of somewhat bewildered looking adults that I shared the evening with. Not marketing this production directly to a young audience would miss a huge loss. Tweens are a notoriously tricky audience to harness, and too often they and their beleaguered parents are overlooked by theater makers. But Nevermore is the over-the-top storytelling fest with outlandish performances begging for more audience participation. This is the show the kids are waiting for! Scaffold Theatre should invite them in and let the Halloween magic begin! I encourage Scaffold to consider moving up their performance times, dropping their ticket price for families and see if they can lure in an audience of boos, ghouls, tired mummies and daddies eager for a Halloween spooktacular!